Fueled By $500 Million In Federal Cash, Moderna Races To Make A Billion Doses Of An Unproven Cure

May 8, 2020 / Leah Rosenbaum, Forbes Staff

The company’s billionaire CEO has secured huge grants on the promise of a new class of mRNA vaccines, but nobody really knows if they will work.

From the moment the first case of what would later be called COVID-19 was announced, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel started keeping an eye on the virus. He circulated a Wall Street Journal article about the new disease to his staff in early January, telling them to watch it closely. When the genomic sequence of the virus was released online by Chinese scientists on January 11, 2020, the Cambridge, Massachusettsbased Moderna team had a vaccine design ready within 48 hours. It shipped a batch of its first vaccine candidate to the National Institutes of Health for a phase one study just 42 days after that. In early March, Moderna’s mRNA vaccine, which represents an entirely new way to provide immunity to disease, was injected into humans for the first time.

That’s lightning fastVaccines typically take years (or in some cases, decades) to develop, but it’s not fast enough for Bancel. “Every day we’re losing lives; we really believe that every day matters,” he says.

The speed is made possible by a new technology: mRNA vaccines, which have the potential to fix many of the pitfalls of traditional vaccines,which take a long time to manufacture, aren’t 100% effective and, if they are made with a live virus, have an outside chance of making you sick. mRNA vaccines work kind of like a computer program: After the mRNA “code” is injected into the body, it instructs the machinery in your cells to produce particular proteins. Your body then becomes a vaccine factory, producing parts of the virus that trigger the immune system. In theory, this makes them safer and quicker to develop and manufacture, which is why Moderna has thrown all its weight behind this new COVID-19 vaccine, pausing enrollment of several of its other clinical trials in the meantime.


Josh Sandberg

Josh Sandberg is the President and CEO of Ortho Spine Partners and sits on several company and industry related Boards. He also is the Creator and Editor of OrthoSpineNews.

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